Board balks at 'threats' on levies



The district must make cuts to save at least $1 million.
By JEANNE STARMACK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Saying they don't want to threaten residents, school board members balked Wednesday at a recommendation that the board decide what's at risk of being cut if two levies fail in May.
Superintendent Doug Heuer gave board members a compilation of suggestions that residents made at a "state of the schools" meeting last week. About 500 people were at the meeting and were given choices of what cuts they would make.
The district needs an additional $1 million next year, Heuer said, just because of inflation and rising fuel costs. If the renewal levies fail, the district will have to cut an additional $2.6 million for 2007, and $5.2 million for 2008, he said.
Heuer said state funding will not increase in the coming year. As long as the district is not taking in any more money, he said, cuts will have to be made again in subsequent years.
Then, he recommended the board "determine what is at risk" if the levies fail.
Layoff notices
"I believe an informed public is necessary when going to the polls," he said. He also said that if the district is considering layoffs, state law requires affected employees to be notified before the election date of May 2.
Board president Michael Creatore and member Traci Morse Merlo said they don't want to alienate the public with threatened cuts.
"I don't know if the temperament of the community will accept that," Creatore said. "I don't feel comfortable telling people, 'Here's what you'll lose if you don't pass the levies."
"If we have to look at employment decisions between now and April 30, that's a normal course of business," he said.
"I feel it would come off as very threatening," Morse Merlo said. Merlo, with the other board members concurring, said the state of the schools meeting was a great concept.
"But it's just the beginning," she said. "People had questions. A lot of things were missing." She said people wanted to know why art, music and physical education were on the list of cuts but administrative services were not.Personnel needed
Heuer said administrative services tie in to programs, and program cuts would affect them. "If you are going to support certain programs, you need personnel."
A Fitch High School teacher who was in the audience said she believes the public should be told what would be cut if the levies fail.
"If you want the community to vote for renewals, they have to have all the information," said Lil Quaranta, who teaches Latin and English. "They have to have what you aren't comfortable with. I don't take that as a threat -- it's a fact. Give them everything they need to make a good decision."
The board agreed it would like to see more meetings for public questions and input before the May election. The levies are to renew the district's current revenues and will not raise taxes. The board approved putting them on the ballot.
In other business, Heuer and the board decided to ask the state auditor for a performance audit of the district, which would be paid for by funding through the state department of education.

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